5 Leaders of the Reformation Era

Erasmus of Rotterdam

ErasmusErasmus was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1466, and he died in 1536.  He was a reformer, but one that stayed loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and the supremacy of the pope.  His reformation work focused on fixing the abuses of the clergy.  Erasmus is famously remembered by modern day reformers for his exchange with Luther in which he sought to defend humanity’s freewill in conversion against the predestination teaching (faith alone is a work of God) espoused by many of the Reformers.  Erasmus’ writing and rhetorician skills, Luther claimed was far superior to his own in the opening of Bondage of the Will, Luther’s response to Erasmus’ apology for freewill.  Apart from his role in this famous debate with Luther, Erasmus has had a long lasting influence on the Church by his emphasis to returning to the original languages of the texts of Scripture. For almost a millennium the Bible was largely published in Latin in the Western Church, but Erasmus took it upon himself to publish a Greek text of the New Testament compiled from the best manuscripts available to him.  It is from future editions of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament that Luther translated the New Testament into German and Tyndale translated the New Testament into English.  Today it is expected to learn Greek for a M.Div. degree, instead of Latin, and this educational and hermeneutical emphasis can be traced back to Erasmus of Rotterdam.

 Ulrich Zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1534) was a Swiss priest who founded the Swiss Reformed Church.  ZwingliHe was as reformer much like Luther, from the start arguing against not just abuses in the Church, but also against accepted practices that he found to be unbiblical, such as the ordinance that priests are not to marry and many of the required fasts of the Roman Catholic Church during Lent.  To such ends, he didn’t just write; Zwingli actively demonstrated his teaching by being married in public and chowing down on sausages for all to see during the Lenten fasts.  It would seem that such a brazen man who proclaimed Christ’s work to save and who actively broke unbiblical mandates would have found unity in their reformation movements, but Luther and Zwingli butted heads to the extreme over the Lord’s Supper.  Zwingli didn’t just reject transubstantiation as Luther did; he reduced the meal down to a symbolic remembrance meal, that flew in the face of Luther who was still very much a sacramentarian, who recognized that all the grace of God was given in the meal to all who partook of it.  An obvious stain in history for Zwingli for the eyes of the modern day Christian is the militant force he exerted against the Anabaptists within his area of jurisdiction.  Zwingli died on a battlefield as a chaplain in a fight against the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin Bucer

Martin BucerMarin Bucer (1491-1551) was a German Reformer who was forced to center his work in Strassburg, Germany, after his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church for his work in Wissembourg.  He is remembered most for his uniting work in his attempts to bring agreement between Luther and Zwingli, as well as his longstanding hope and work to see Roman Catholics join the Reformation.  When Strasbourg accepted the Augsburg Interim after a defeat to the Roman Emperor in the Schmalkaldic Wars, Bucer was exiled to England for his remaining dissension against the terms of the interim agreement.  Bucer was welcomed in England and was even asked to work on a revision of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayers.  Due to his work and agreement in so many different factions of the Reformation Movement, Bucer is claimed as being a member of multiple camps of the Reformation today.

Johann Brenz

Born in Germany in 1499, Johann Brenz was a young man studying in Heidelberg and Brenzwas present to hear Luther’s 1518 Heidelberg Disputation theses.  Brenz was soon won over by Luther’s teachings and at his first preaching assignment in 1522 at St. Michael’s in the Franconian city of Schwäbisch-Hall, he set about reforming the Church in that territory, which became a 26-year endeavor.  In addition to his reforming work in Schwäbisch-Hall, Brenz became a leader in further formulating, clarifying, and advancing of Luther’s teachings, most notably in the Luther and Zwingli debate over the Eucharist.  Brenz wrote Syngramma Suevicum, a text that defined the Lutheran position of the sacrament of the altar, and he was a voice for the Lutheran position of the Lord’s Supper at the 1529 Marburg Colloquy.  Later in his life. Brenz picked up the debate again against the Swiss position on the Eucharist that reduced the meal to a symbolic memorial with his 1561 writing, De personali unione duarum naturarum in Christo. Aside from this major focus of this teachings, Brenz was an influential voice for religious tolerance, calling for debate and not bloodshed over doctrinal differences, as was the typical response to religious disagreement in the 16th century.

Thomas Muntzer

Thomas Muntzer

Thomas Muntzer (1489-1525) was a German priest who had separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church before Luther’s Reformation Movement had started.  This meant he wasn’t entirely against Luther’s work, but to Muntzer, salvation by grace through faith alone wasn’t enough.  One couldn’t simply trust in Christ from the words of the Bible for salvation, or have assurance from participating rightly in the sacramental system of the Roman Church, one had to suffer personally to partake in the benefits of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In addition to this off kilter view of salvation among all the camps of the Church in his day, Muntzer held that the end of the world and the return of Christ were imminent, and that the work of true Christians would usher in this return.  In as much the same way that many Shiite Muslims believe the last imam will return in a moment of immense chaos (war), Muntzer rallied many peasants into an uprising against the feudal system of Germany seeking an overthrow of both of the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers led by Luther’s teachings.  Through their fighting, God would cleanse the world.  That was Muntzer’s radical belief at least, and in 1525 the peasants who followed him followed him to their deaths in what is known as the Peasants War.  Muntzer was captured, tortured, yet he refused to recant.  His head was put on a pike as a warning for others who might entertain the thoughts of forcefully overthrowing the feudal system in the name of God.

Theologian of Glory vs. Theologian of the Cross

The following is a Facebook Messenger conversation that has every possibility of being a real exchange between myself and one of my former colleagues from Crean Lutheran High School in the Theology Department.  This conversation describes and assesses the situation of dispute that often arises in Bible studies over Paul’s election language found in Romans 9.  This mock exchange also interprets it theologically before ending with a recommendation of a course for action.

Again – this is a made-up exchange, though it is grounded in some reality.  For instance, most of my input comes from notes I took from a Professor Biermann lecture that was given at Concordia Seminary on November 1st, 2018.

Wes:  Hey, Andy.  We decided to read Romans for our Friday men’s Bible Study this year at Crean, and guess what? The department punted to me to take over for Romans 9-11.

Andy: You’re the man for it, since you came out of Calvinism.

Wes:  Sure, but with only thirty minutes for our time together it’s hard to get much traction.  We did what we traditionally do and read through the whole of chapter 9 to start, and immediately, it was like a bomb went off.

Andy: I can only imagine.  Weeping and gnashing of teeth; I’m sure.  I can guess the usual suspects from our Calvinists and Arminian brethren on staff .  It’s one of the downsides I guess to not having a Lutheran only hiring policy in order to get the best math, science, and English teachers.

Wes: For sure.  Yet, as you know, even many of the Lutheran teachers from outside the Theology department don’t get election (vs. 11), ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ (v. 13), and God hardening whomever he wills. (v. 18)

Andy:  I doubt that’s a problem for you though, because like I said you are the man for this chapter.  You came out of Calvinism and you got all the great Middendorf answers memorized verbatim from that MA class you took recently.  It was great stuff you shared with me that you picked up from our Synod’s bowtie professor.

Wes: I’m telling you; a bomb went off.  There were so many questions and objections and answers from others going around that I didn’t even get to wind up on showing how this isn’t Paul making a case for double-predestination.  The Calvinists in the bunch were touting that this is exactly what Paul is teaching in this passage, and our outspoken Arminian teacher was correctly abhorring the notion that from before time God had predestined many to hell, yet he was denying total depravity and pushing free-will in the process.

Andy:  I recall that he doesn’t even support original sin.  So what’s on the docket for next week?  A repeat of chapter 9?

Wes:  I could give all the pat, pat correct answers, but I think the root of the problem needs to be addressed.  They’re smart people.  They know how to read.  I feel like it’s more than just poor exegesis at play.  Any thoughts on what is at the heart of the matter?

Andy:  I do have an idea of where you could start.  Do you remember Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation?

Wes:  Yeah, what about it…

Andy:  Unlike you, I’m not a big Church history buff – nor reader.  I didn’t even know what was in it or even when it was written or why until this week.  Professor Biermann used it as his key text for laying out the distinction between being a theologian of glory or a theologian of the cross. I asked him after class if Luther had coined those terms and he said that to his knowledge he had, and the way Dr. Biermann presented these two types of theologians was unlike what I had ever heard or conceived concerning these two types of theology.  I think it could be helpful as a starting off point next week.

Wes:  How so?

Andy: We all (Calvinists, Roman Catholics, Arminian, Lutherans, etc.) say that we are saved by grace through faith, since Paul plainly said so, but we understand this salvation differently.  The theologian of glory “wants to matter” in his approach to salvation, whereas the theologian of the cross “wants God to count!”  The theologian of the cross recognizes that God is the Creator and we are but his creation.  We are contingent on him.  It’s actually going to be the next shirt I add to my website: “I am a dependent being.”  It flies in the face of our American individualism and our sense of independence and unrestrained freedom to “do what thou wilt” (the charge of LaVeyan Satanism by the way).  Our dependency on God so hits at the heart of our glory seeking sinful nature, that even as Christians we fight it, still wanting to operate with the understanding that life and salvation are still in some way in our court.  We want to matter.

Wes: “Who of you can add an hour to your life?” We are dependent on God not only for our physical life, but also our spiritual life.

Andy: Exactly.

Wes:  So what do I do with this distinction precisely?

Andy: Dr. Biermann ran most of this through a “Stairway to Heaven” depiction, which Stairway to Heaven 4you know I loved!

Wes:  Yeah, some students miss your “Jesus is the Stairway to Heaven”, Led Zeppelin, poster in Room 209.

Andy:  I miss Room 209 and you guys too.

Wes: So what did Biermann do with the “Stairway to Heaven”?

Andy:  Same thing as me except he couched it in the terminology of theologian of glory vs. theologian of the cross.  He actually drew a stairway on the board and depicted the theologian of glory viewing salvation as his work going up the steps to God. As you know, there are various takes on this and they all still claim grace from God as the way “they” make the climb.

Wes: Rome would say God is the initiator of such work through his grace that enables us to earn this merit.

Andy: You got it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 3, Chapter 3, Article 2 in Brief on Justification states: “No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.”

Wes: Our Arminian friends are the same involving their own merit, though not quite as bad off as Rome, I’d say.

Andy: Since faith is their work, their decision, their works are involved.  Even if it is just one work, the work of faith, the door has been opened just a hair for our works to play a role in our salvation.  Once that door is cracked, the tendency is for the door to swing further open.  Enter the stereotypical Footloose Christianity that I know so well from growing up in Baptistville, TN.

Wes:  Footloose, that’s funny.  My uncle who lives in Dandridge, TN, is in a dry county!  I guess they are pointing to their works to prove or verify the validity of their decision to follow Jesus, or in the case of the Footloose breed of Christians, they create laws around God’s laws to ensure they don’t sin.

Andy: When they doubt if they really believe or if they have truly accepted Jesus, all those adverbs that Professor Rod Rosenbladt despised, where do they turn for assurance?  Inward on themselves.  Even if they don’t “want to matter” in salvation; they do, and they must for their assurance.  Theology of glory.

Wes: The Calvinists are no different.  Even though they claim divine monergism, they believe Jesus didn’t die for everyone, so how do they know that they are one of the elect?  They can’t just look to the promises found in the Gospel or in the waters of baptism.  They like the Arminian turn inward.  Remember, we did a podcast episode on that talking about The Gospel Coalition’s article, “How Do I Know I’m A Christian?” by Kevin DeYoung.  For the person asking this question, maybe from a position of doubt even, he points them first to their personal confidence in Christ.  Well, why would they be asking this question if they were confident in their belief? Then DeYoung pointed them to have confidence that they are a Christian by looking at their righteous life and love for other Christians, citing Scripture all along, but not pointing the people to Christ for their assurance.

Andy: I do remember that episode very fondly.  I think it was the first one we did together.   Dr. Biermann pointed out a different reason however for why Calvinists are theologians of glory.  You’ll like this one!  Because Calvinists make it all make sense.  He says the same for the Arminians too.

Wes:  That’s hilarious… because their system is lock-tight reasonable and they are consistent with it through and through.  But how does that make them theologians of glory?

Andy: You just said it.  It’s in their reasoning.  By putting their reason above Scripture, by making it all make sense, by having their special Calvinist decoder ring to know that “all” doesn’t mean everyone; it means all the elect.  Or, their fancy working of what the word “world” means to show that God wasn’t reconciling everyone to himself in Christ.

Wes:  That makes sense – no pun intended.  They have a magisterial use of reason and by their erasure of the paradox of election with God’s desire that all be saved, they have “made themselves matter” over and above God’s Word.  Their reason is the key to the Scriptures – to getting things right.

Andy:  For the Arminian, and I haven’t seen anyone say this before, I would argue that instead of putting their reason above Scripture, they are putting their emotions above Scripture.  They are using their reason to run to double-predestination when they hear that God elects people by grace alone apart from any individual merit, but then their emotions, their feelings, kick-in, and they go “that’s not fair!”  “That’s not loving!”

Wes:  That’s right.  The question of fairness was raised by the non-Calvinist objectors to election.

Andy:  See, they want to be involved in salvation, have some sort of part in the process – theologians of glory.

Wes:  But then they do get that salvation by grace through faith isn’t fair since Jesus did die for their sins.  The happy exchange is in play.  Our sins are imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us through faith.  They get that that move of double-imputation is not fair and yet it is necessary to be that way since we can’t justify ourselves, but they still want it to be fair.

Andy:  It’s because they are operating based on their experience, reason, and emotions.  Nothing in this world is free for us.  It’s one of the first things Jessica hammered out of me.  Every time I’d see something for free, she’d say I was so gullible.  She’d say nothing is free.  And every time she was right.  There was some string attached.  Are you familiar with the Rush song, “Something for Nothing”?

Wes:  You know I’m not.

Andy: Of course you don’t know it.  It’s electric. The song’s chorus says, “You don’t get something for nothing.  You don’t get freedom for free.”  Their lyricist, Neil Peart, is correct, but only in the kingdom of man (he’s an atheist by the way).  In God’s economy, we do get grace for free.  Free for us. Not free for God.

Wes:  So you’re thinking this paradigm between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross will show that when we reject God’s election as revealed in Scripture will help them see that they are operating under their own sin tainted reason and experiences of this fallen world and not living in submission to the work of Christ on the cross that says, “Your works do not matter.  Mine are all that count for your salvation.”?

Andy:  That is correct.  I’d recommend starting the next men’s Bible study laying out these two types of theologians, even drawing it out on the board.  Then I’d show them the doctrinal statements from Scripture that form the doctrine of election.

Wes:  Are you referring to these five statements from PPT you made for the “Conversion” chapter from Called to Believe?

  1. We are saved by grace through faith.

John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 4:5

  1. Faith is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit.

Titus 3:5, 1 Corinthians 12:3, John 1:13, Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 2:5, Romans 9:16, and John 6:29

  1. We are incapable of deciding to have faith.

1 Corinthians 12:3, Ephesians 2:1, John 1:13, John 6:44, and 1 Corinthians 2:14

  1. God elects/predestines to salvation!

Ephesians 1:3-13, 4:3-5, John 1:13, Romans 8:29-30, 2 Timothy 1:8-9

  1. It is the will of God that no man should perish!

1 Timothy 1:3-4, 2 Peter 3:8-9

Andy:  Those are the ones.  Stress that it is never written anywhere in scripture that God predestines people to Hell!  If someone goes to Hell it is because of their sin and their rejection of God.  We do not have the ability to accept God, but we have the ability to reject Him!

Explain to them that if we say that faith is not solely a work of the Spirit, but that we play an active role in our conversion we would ignore points 2-4, eliminating Scripture.

Wes: Then if we are to say that faith in conversion is solely a work of the Holy Spirit and thus God predestines some to heaven and others to hell, we would be eliminating point 5 from Scripture.
Andy:  And anytime we are removing Scripture to have things make sense, or to be fair to our reasoning of what fair is, we’re putting ourselves above God and his Word and making ourselves matter in the scheme of God’s salvation.  Anytime someone in the group brings up a statement that goes against one of those teachings of Scripture, you can simply point it out.

Wes: I also added two additional points to that list you put together with the verses from which they are derived.  One on the resistibility of grace and another on the general (universal) atonement of sins through the work of Christ.  Those are key for refuting Calvin’s TULIP theology of glory.

Andy: Nice. Finally, be sure to proclaim the good news of God’s election.  In Christ, God has chosen them to be his children.  As unsettling as it may be to not matter in the scheme of their salvation, God’s election is to comfort them, knowing that that he chose them unconditionally before they were even born, before the foundations of the world.  Nothing can separate them from the love God has for them in Christ Jesus.

Wes:  Amen.  I’ll let you know how it goes next Friday.

GP – God’s Promise!

GP Logo

Being born at the tail end of 1981, I grew up with many rainbow images, such as the rainbow colored marshmallows of my favorite cereal, Lucky Charms, and my favorite video series from elementary school had the word in its name, Reading Rainbow!  I preferred M and Ms to Skittles, but I was quite aware of the Skittles’ rainbow themed commercials.  My sister’s cartoons of choice had rainbows front center in their imagery too: Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, and My Little Pony.  I’m sure I even thought of Oz when I saw a rainbow. In high school I discovered the band Rainbow, that featured Ritchie Blackmoore, the man who wrote the famous “Smoke on the Water” riff, and Dio, the greatest voice of metal. I still see the rainbow featured often in my daughter’s 21st century cartoons, but to be fair, when many of us see a rainbow image today, childhood shows and cartoons probably don’t come to mind.  What comes to mind today when you see a rainbow?  What comes to my mind with rainbow imagery makes me think the band Rainbow would have chosen a different name if they were to form today.

Most of you probably answered something about gay pride, same-sex marriage, or the LGBTQ community coming to mind when you see rainbows today.

The image of the rainbow is linked so closely today with homosexuality; the White House was lit up with the colors of the rainbow the evening of the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in America for instance.  The link is so strong to homosexual practice that many Christians today shy away from the use of rainbow colors or imagery to avoid promoting actions and a lifestyle that Scripture states as sinful.

This however does not have to be the case and should not be the case.  The Bible after all prominently features a rainbow as a sign of a promise that God made with Noah after he destroyed the world via a flood.  The promise that God made was that he would never again destroy the world via a flood.

We can remember much when we see a rainbow.  We can remember God’s promise to Noah and all living creatures.  We can look to the rainbow and be reminded of how God has given us promises that are both of Law and of Gospel.

When we look to the rainbow, we are reminded that God did destroy the world once due to the wickedness of mankind.  We can understand how wicked we are capable of being when we consider the many millions of deaths that occurred in the 20th century under Atheistic, Communist regimes.  Just how bad men had become Scripture is not clear, but certainly evil enough that God destroyed all of mankind, except Noah and his family.  Noah alone found favor with God, because he walked with God.

Concerning Law, the outside color of blue reminds us of the flood waters of Noah’s day.  The outside color of red, reminds us that God has promised that he will destroy the world again.  He will keep his promise and not use water.  This time he will destroy the world with fire.

The rainbow also can remind us of God’s promises of good news.  The outside blue, reminds us of baptism into Jesus Christ.  The way to be saved when the world is destroyed by fire is to be in the waters of baptism.  Peter tells us that the waters of Noah’s day, the waters by which eight people were saved, symbolize the waters of baptism that now save us.  He says that the waters of baptism save us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death and raised with him to new life.

The outside red of the rainbow reminds us of communion.  Communion is a meal that Jesus instituted on the night that he was betrayed to death.  In it, he took bread and after giving thanks, broke it and said, “Take Eat, this is my body given for you.”  He also took a cup of wine and said, “Take drink, this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  He told his disciples to eat of this bread and drink of this cup often in remembrance of him and that when we do this we are proclaiming his death until he comes again to bring us to the eternal home he is preparing for us.

The rainbow also points to Jesus.  It is a bow, as in a bow and arrow.  God’s bow is no longer pointed down at us. It is pointed up to heaven.  God’s wrath against the wickedness of men has been turned to his Son, who became sin for us, and who was pierced for our transgressions.

Here with the rainbow we see God’s promises of both Law and Gospel.

Join me in sharing this message of God’s plan of salvation and the end of evil.  Join me in sharing the promises of God, both of warning and of hope, found in the rainbow.

GP Sticker
GP Shirt

Aquinas – 5 Arguments for the Existence of God

I read Aquinas’ three articles on the existence of God found in his Summa Theologica.  The following article I wrote as an analysis of his five arguments for the existence of God found in article 3.  To better understand and engage with this article, please read the linked selection above.  Thank you! 

Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar, born in Aquino, Italy, in the 13th century, is known as a master of systematic theology, with no one of great comparison before him besides Augustine.  He was a great influencer in the tradition of scholasticism, a school of thought that placed a high emphasis on reason.  As such, it is no surprise that Aquinas is well known for his contribution to natural theology, reasoned arguments from logic and natural experience that make the case for the existence of God.  These arguments are found in his work, Summa Theolgica, a text that Aquinas wrote as a summary of the Catholic faith.  His other two important works include the Summa contra Gentiles, written to postulate Christian theology in the context of the unbeliever, and the Compendium Theologiae, written for the lay beginner learning the faith.  In this paper I will briefly present and analyze his arguments to answer the question, “Whether God Exists?” as found in Aquinas’ Summa Theolica.

Aquinas’ purpose in this selection of his work is to show that God does exist in opposition to the objection to God’s existence on account of the presence of evil in the world (since God is infinitely good, it appears there should be no evil if he existed) and the objection that supposes it is reasonable that everything in the natural world can be accounted for by nature itself and that everything voluntary can be accounted for by the human will apart from God’s existence.

To answer how he knows that God exists, Aquinas gives five arguments from natural knowledge.  The first argument is that the observed motion in the world dictates a first mover to initiate the movement.  The second argument is that God alone has the necessary qualities to be the efficient cause of all things (to be that first mover), since a thing cannot bring itself into existence (existing before it existed).  The third argument derives from the possibility for things not to be, meaning it’s possible for nature to not exist, but at that point there would be nothing, and since nothing produces nothing, it then follows that nothing cannot be the explanation of the first mover. The fourth argument is that of gradation in which all aspects of nature have a comparable greater than or less than quality to them and that the maximum in any given classification (genus) is the cause of all in that category.  It follows that there must be something that is maximum to all beings from which everything derives: God.  Finally, Aquinas’ fifth argument for the existence of God is taken from the orderly and intended purposes found in all things of the natural world, thus pointing to an intelligent being that orchestrated this design.

Aquinas then uses these five arguments from nature to refute the two objections against the existence of God that he is striving to refute.  To the existence of evil being incompatible with God, Aquinas applies the principle that God is the highest good stating, “He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil” (Kerr, 114).  It is reasonable to say that the best of the best in the realm of goodness would be able to produce good out of evil.  To put the nail in the coffin for the objection that nature can produce all we see in nature, Aquinas simply works from the fifth argument he gave back to the first.

Aquinas adequately met his goal to defend the existence of God against these two objections, but I’m not sure who would have been making a case for naturalism in Aquinas’ day that would have been interacting with this work to warrant such an articulated effort on his part.  In today’s zeitgeist, numerous sophisticated arguments for atheism have emerged (Darwinian Evolution, multiverse theory, panspermia theory, and even redefining nothing as something).  However, all of these arguments (or mere theories) fail to answer the question of first causes and break down upon the same arguments Aquinas offered almost 800 years ago.  In fact, Aquinas’ arguments are essentially the same arguments from nature used today; they are just more refined and organized into syllogisms now (usually).  For example, William Lane Craig has in recent decades popularized the Kalam Cosmological Argument, stems back to Aristotle (who said everything has a cause), was then established by Aquinas (who said God is the uncaused cause), then repackaged by Islamic philosophers in the Kalam argument, which states: 1) Everything that begins has a cause.  2) The Universe has a beginning. 3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its beginning.[1]  The personal creator God is that cause, since as Aquinas explained, the universe couldn’t cause itself and it couldn’t have been the product of nothing.  The argument of design and order that Aquinas presented, which in modern day is typically called the teleological argument, has garnered much more detailed support through our increased knowledge of the fine details of the building blocks of life (cells, DNA, etc.) and the intricacies of organ systems within living creatures and the interplay of ecosystems – all we know of the world (which is more than in Aquinas’ day) screams for a Creator, just as Paul said it does in Romans 1.

In closing, Aquinas’ work seems to be the foundation of much of modern day Christian apologetics concerning arguments from nature.  However, arguments from nature are arguments that any Theist can offer, as demonstrated by Craig’s reinvigoration of the Islamic Kalam argument.  I’d argue that it is far more important to focus Christian apologetics on revealed knowledge, pointing to the historicity of the Gospel narratives concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that demonstrate not only that God exists, but tell us precisely who God is and what he thinks of us and what he has done for us.  Centering such arguments for the existence of God around the cross of Jesus of Nazareth and his subsequent empty tomb also better counter the problem of evil that Aquinas was ultimately addressing through his arguments for the existence of God.  Instead of just posturing that an infinitely good God isn’t incompatible with the existence of evil, because such a God can produce good from evil, Aquinas, and Christians today, can and should point to the certain assurance of God’s capabilities to do this through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Out of the greatest evil that has occurred in human history (the death of the God-Man at the hands of his own creation) the greatest good was produced (salvation for all who believe as Jesus reconciled the world to the Father through the shedding of his blood).

 

 

[1] All About Philosphy. “Cosmological Argument”: https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/cosmological-argument.htm accessed on Oct. 29th, 2018.

Evangelism Dispute

The following was written for an Introduction to Systematics prompt.  The prompt was long and I had to hit on quite a few points covered in the class.  The assignment has five different segments that will be graded.  Just roll with it for me without having to see the prompt – let me know your thoughts.

And no – I’m not a pastor, and no – that I know of there is no Bucksnort Lutheran Church in TN.

I also don’t know why when copying from Word into my WordPress Blog some paragraphs are indented and others are not.


Dear saints of Bucksnort Lutheran Church,

The Lord be with you!

A conversation emerged at one of our weekly, late night men’s meetings at Dunkin’ Donuts that I think is of importance to share with the whole congregation.  This last week turned into one of those burning of the midnight oil sessions as the topic of discussion turned to the declining membership of our church.  Our group was divided over what role evangelism plays in our response to the “dying” state of our congregation.  Likely other conversations are emerging among you concerning solutions to this felt need to acquire more members for congregational survival, so I am writing to address this matter.  First I will layout the two sides that were drawn in our men’s meeting.  After presenting the two positions I aim to give meaning to our current situation in light of Church history, before offering a very important theological distinction concerning the nature of evangelism.  I will then close with my concrete recommendation for how we should proceed as a congregation concerning evangelism in our church and to our community.

The discussion led us to two distinct camps.  The one camp stressed that we needed to have an intentional, concerted, congregation-wide effort to gain new members.  The term campaign was given to define this endeavor.  This campaign would entail increased evangelism, outreach, and witness in our individual vocations and as a congregation.  Door to door evangelism visits and invitations to the church were suggested, regularly placing flyers in all the public boards at the community center and town markets, hosting a town hall style meeting at our church to address pornography, since our town is largely known for the adult video store right off our I-40 exit, registering a booth at all the town fairs, and pulling together a community wide venison donation in partnership with Hunters for the Hungry, were all ideas of what could be added to what we are currently doing in the Bucksnort community to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

The other camp that formed emphasized that such planned acts of outreach on our part would be a lack of trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.  They stressed that faith is a gift from God and that by our own reason and abilities we cannot believe in Jesus or draw near to him.  They understood a campaign to gain new members through “doing more” to be a misguided movement since “our doing” offers no guarantee of new members, since that desired outcome is not dependent upon us, but God’s work alone.  This position held that as a congregation we should just trust God with the “survival” of our congregation.

At this point, I think it is important to note that this church body divide is not unique to our congregation.  Our Synod was divided over Ablaze, a goal to have a certain number of Gospel “touches” with a tracking of how many of those touches led to church connection. The reason for this goal was to counter dwindling numbers in the Synod as a whole, and the arguments against it were the same as what we see here in Bucksnort Lutheran Church.  When I was a seminary student, an Ethiopian student shared with me that his denomination had this same conflict.  Their situation was a little different though.  Their goal to reach a certain number of people with the Gospel was motivated out of a desire to sustain growth, to preserve their legacy, since their denomination is the largest Lutheran denomination in the world; they wanted to stay that way.

Much of what we are experiencing today can also be placed into a broader historical understanding of the rise and fall of Christendom.  In the first century when the apostles walked the earth and the New Testament cannon was still being written, churches were small, Christians were by far a minority, even thought for a while to be a wayward cult of Judaism.  When we think of the early Christians, we might tend to try and place our cultural understanding and experience of congregational life into our readings of Paul’s letters to the churches.  When we think of the Church of Corinth in the first century, we might picture a congregation with a church building like ours with set service times on a sign in their yard, but this was simply not the case.  The church in Corinth likely met in a home or a rented space with as few as 40 people and as many as 100 or so believers in their gatherings.  These numbers place our current Sunday gatherings of about 70 people to be in the middle range of what the church in Corinth could have been.  Reading their letter from Paul, we don’t typically come to the conclusion that they were a dying congregation, despite their many conflicts, divisions, and obvious sin within their church body.  Paul gave no allusion to their congregation dying. Instead, he called for them to address the sin in their congregation through church discipline and exhorted them to remember what was of first importance: that Christ died for sins, was buried, and rose again to life on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The early Church certainly endured as Christ promised it would, though some congregations might have ceased to gather due to various reasons.  More than endure, the Church in fact within about three hundred years of its inception became the dominant religious entity in the Roman Empire thanks to Emperor Constantine’s embrace of Christianity.    The Church and the State were married and this gave way to what is called Christendom.  The culture by and large became Christian and Christianity was known by all in the land; it could be assumed that most people in the State were Christian, or at least knew the Christian message of Christ.

Does this sound familiar?

I assume many of us have thought in this way about our culture and even our government, thinking of America as a Christian nation.  With this notion, we could be tempted to think that the unconverted or individuals who wouldn’t deny Jesus is God but would never ever grace the halls of church building (lots of these folk in TN) simply need to be awakened to the truth that they’re swimming in every day of their lives simply by the virtue of being born an American.  This “awakening” is perceived to come about from a simple nudge to go to church by a neighbor, through the Church meeting a particular need or interest of the individual, or by making the Church service a place they feel convertible.  Or… what sometimes happens when the Church and State are so entwined, whatever good that comes from the marketplace of the society is interpreted as being from the Lord.  Since we have much to be thankful for as Americans, the process of “awakening” the soul in our context becomes a process of pointing people to God by pointing them to the State and all the benefits of being American.  At its worst in Church history, this process became a convert or die scenario as the Church extended its borders and ensured control within the State.

Though many Christians in America are quite guilty of thinking along these various lines of “Constantine Christianity,” what I heard presented at Dunkin’ Donuts from the evangelism camp was not the concept that all we had to do was stir people up to embrace the God of America or to point people to American exceptionalism as the means to Church growth.  I heard plenty of recognition that we needed to gain new members by reaching into our community through proper missionary work – which is a manifestation of the reign of Christ through following the way of Christ, coupled with the proclaimed Word of God!  This is great.  Serving and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is what we are called to do as the Church when making disciples.

Such “missions” won’t guarantee growth in congregational membership, however.  On this point, the other camp was correct.  Faith is a gift and a work of the Holy Spirit that comes to individuals through their hearing of God’s grace won for them through the persona and work of Jesus of Nazareth. God has entrusted his people with his written Word that was given to the prophets and apostles to be spoken by us to others as the means by which salvation (by grace through faith) comes to individuals.  Even in the Sacraments (baptism and communion), grace is delivered directly to individuals through the spoken words of promise: “I baptize you” and “this is for you.” This means are called to “do the Word” and “proclaim the Word.”

The theological distinction that needs to be made is that of efficacy and effectiveness.  The Word of God is always efficacious, meaning it always has the power to accomplish the intended effect.  The Gospel is the power of God to save for all who believe. (Romans 1:16) However, the Word of God is not always effective.  God’s Word (the Gospel) has the power to save, yet It can be resisted, rejected. (Ezekiel 2:5, Isaiah 66:4, John 10:27, Matthew 23:3) Though God’s Word can be resisted, it will not return empty.  It will accomplish what God desires for it to accomplish when and where he pleases.  (Isaiah 55:11).  God’s Word illumines the path to salvation.  (Psalm 119:105, 2 Peter 1:19, John 1:1-14) Yet, men reject the light, because they love darkness. (John 3:19:21) God’s Word is understood/discerned spiritually, not by human reason, so that even infants who we do not perceive to be capable of comprehending God’s Word, or any words for that matter, may know God and His Word and have faith in Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Timothy 3:15).  This is a mind-blowing mystery concerning how God’s Word is always efficacious but not always effective, yet because we have received this paradox from the Lord in Scripture, we can trust it to be true.

My recommendation from my understanding of the situation, analysis, and assessment, is that we should think of ourselves as living in a “Post-Christian America” or a “Post-Constantine Christianity,” which means we should look to how the Church functioned “Pre-Constantine.”  We see that the early Christians “did the text” of God’s Word which put them in stark contrast to the pagans that surrounded them on all sides.  Their way of life – caring for each other, loving everyone, giving to those in need, blessing those who persecuted them, doing the things of God’s bidding to love others as ourselves – attracted non-believers to their community.  Then they heard the proclaimed word of God that came from within that community, and some believed and joined the family of God in baptism.

This means we should do what both camps have said (in part).  The ideas raised by the evangelism camp were good and some of the men were volunteering to spearhead such efforts.  Yet, in our discussion we came to the conclusion that such works needed to be done from a proper motivation, not out of fear for our congregation’s survival, but done from a Gospel motivation to share the love we have received from Christ with others.  The call to trust in the Holy Spirit from the other camp was also important.  We came to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit has gifted us all in the Body of Christ for service in the mission of disciple-making –  enacting the reign of Christ here, now, and proclaiming his love and saving work to one and all.  In “our working,” we recognize that the Spirit gets the credit, and we must recognize that when we proclaim the Gospel, he works when and where he pleases to bring faith to people.

Peace in Christ,

Andy Wrasman